When I went to bed, the campground was empty.
I woke up at 12:30am, and I really had to pee. I was so groggy as I pulled out my pee bucket and found the toilet paper, but I seemed to be hearing noises in the campground. The noises weren’t right outside the van, but were somewhere within the campground. Once back in bed, I tried to figure out what I was hearing.
I did not hear the sound of a vehicle’s engine, which kind of freaked me out. If there were people in the campground, wouldn’t they have driven in? Could I have slept through a vehicle pulling into the campground? Probably. As groggy as I was when I woke up, I’d probably been sleeping really hard. If the vehicle were on the other side of the campground, I definitely could have slept through its motor running.
But what were the other noises I was hearing? There was a metallic sound, somewhat like the metal lids on the metal trashcans being jostled, but not very loud. I wondered if a bear were getting into the metal trashcans, but I think a bear messing with trashcans would make a lot of noise. I don’t think bears are carefully quiet when helping themselves to midnight garbage snacks.
I could also hear the sounds of some kind of animal(s). I couldn’t decide what kind of animal it might be.
Are the cows back? I wondered. When I’d closed up the van around eight o’clock, there had been no cows in the meadow. I don’t think cows are the type of animal to go exploring in the middle of the night. Besides, I’ve been around cows at night (me in a house or my van, the cows in a pasture or a meadow); I know what kinds of noises cows make. The noises I heard did not sound like cows.
I was back to thinking maybe I heard a bear. I’ve never heard a bear, so maybe the noises I was hearing were bear noises. Maybe it was a very quiet bear, carefully lifting the lids on the trashcans and replacing them gently.
What didn’t make sense about bears eating from the trash cans is that the campground had not been very busy in the last few days. Any bears exploring those trashcans would not find much to eat.
Maybe I had dozed off. Maybe I was dreaming. But suddenly I was wide awake and I swore I’d heard a footstep. But whose footstep? Man or beast? Bear or cow?
I waited to hear a lid lifted from a trash can or one can crash into another. Nothing.
Nighttime in a remote, empty campground can be very disconcerting. It’s so quiet. It’s so dark. I never know who or what is out there.
One of my personal rules of being a camp host is that I’m in the van with the doors locked by nightfall, and I don’t get out of the fan at night to greet strangers. If someone I already talked to and checked-in while the sun was out knocks at at night, I ‘d get out of the van and help them if necessary. But I’m not going to deal with strangers in the dark, especially if my brain is addled with sleep.
I lay in the dark, still and quiet, straining to hear any and every little noise. Then I saw the beam of a flashlight once, twice.
I was pretty sure even a Ninja quiet bear would not have a flashlight, which meant I was dealing with humans. I didn’t know if I preferred humans to bears. What were those people doing out there at nearly one in the morning? Who were they? Did they just want to camp, or were they plotting evil schemes? And what were the weird noises?
Everything must have settled down, and I must have dozed off because the next time I turned on my tiny flashlight with the red beam, it was 2am and all was quiet.
I was awake with the first light of dawn. I dressed and prepared to face whatever havoc had been wreaked on the campground in the night.
The trashcans on my side of the campground had not been tampered with. So far, so good.
I saw a big pickup truck hauling a long livestock trailer on the other side of the campground. I saw bedding spread out on site #6 (but no tent). I saw a dog, and it saw me. I couldn’t tell if it was tethered in any way, but it didn’t run over to meet me, so I left well enough alone. I didn’t see any people moving around, but at the back of site #6, I saw six horses milling about.
Oh! Horses! That was the animal noise I’d heard in the night. I don’t have much horse experience, so I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t identified the sounds I’d heard as coming from horses.
I also figured the metallic sounds must have come from the trailer–the gate opening, the horses unloading.
I did my paperwork so I could turn it into my supervisor later in the day. I swept the restrooms. I cleaned fire rings. I plotted how I would demand payment from the horse people, no mater if they protested that they’d not spent the whole night. They’d woke me (and scared me, no less), and they were going to pay.
Between 6 and 6:30, I looked over to site #6 and saw some people moving around. When I finished with the fire ring I was cleaning, I grabbed my clipboard and walked over, fully intending to write a permit and collect payment.
I noticed a person walking among the horses. The person had long hair; I thought it was a small woman. I also noticed the dog I’d seen earlier was not leashed and was frolicking around the horses. I think I said, Good morning, followed by, The dog does need to be leashed in the National Forest.
The female person did not turn to look at me.
I said, Miss? Miss?
The female person turned to look at me. I saw she was not a small woman, but a young girl, maybe 11, maybe 12. She looked at me in utter confusion.
The dog, I pointed. A leash, I said.
She didn’t utter a word. She seemed to be frozen. She just looked at me with blank eyes of confusion. I think there was something besides confusion on her face, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
To Be Continued